In recent years, there have been growing claims that fat isn't the dietary danger it's generally believed to be. What are the facts, and are there such things as good and bad fats?
Fat has long been known as the enemy of dieters everywhere, and a cause of heart disease and diabetes. However, there have recently been rising voices seeking to show fat in a better light. For example, the 'High Fat Diet' claims to help dieters lose up to 10 pounds in 14 days².
Not everyone agrees with fat coming back into such favour. Public Health England recently criticised a report by the National Obesity Forum, which suggested eating fat could help reduce obesity and type 2 diabetes³. Current UK government guidelines also still advise people to cut down on all fats¹.
Beyond the headlines, fat is a vital part of a healthy, balanced diet. It’s a source of essential fatty acids and helps the body absorb vitamins A, D and E. Fat – like carbohydrate and protein – provides the energy we need to sustain ourselves. However, just like carbohydrate and protein, any energy from fat that the body doesn't use is converted into body fat.
Here's a closer look at the different types of fat.
Saturated fats are present in many sweet and savoury foods. Most come from animal sources, such as meat and dairy products, and some plant-based foods, such as palm oil. It's a good idea to cut down on saturated fats, because people generally eat too much of them. On average, the UK population gets 12.6% of its energy (kJ/kcal) from saturated fats, which is slightly above the recommended 11% maximum.
Like all fats, saturated fat can turn into cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein – LDL) in your body, which may increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. However, a certain type of cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein – HDL) helps by taking excess cholesterol from the body to the liver for disposal¹.
To cut the risk of heart disease, it's wise to swap saturated fats for unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are found mainly in oils from plants, and can be polyunsaturated or monounsaturated. Monounsaturated fats can protect hearts by maintaining levels of the 'good' HDL cholesterol while reducing the 'bad' LDL cholesterol. You can find monounsaturated fats in olive oil, rapeseed oil and their spreads; avocados; and some nuts such as almonds, brazil nuts and peanuts.
Polyunsaturated fats come in two types – omega-3 and omega-6 – and they can help lower LDL cholesterol levels. You can find omega-3 in oily fish, and omega-6 in vegetable oils such as rapeseed corn, sunflower and some nuts.
Trans-fats occur at low levels in some foods, such as those from animals, including meat and dairy products. They're also found in hydrogenated vegetable oil. Like saturated fats, trans-fats can raise cholesterol in your blood. However, most people in the UK don't eat much trans-fat, because most supermarkets have removed hydrogenated vegetable oil from their own-brand products¹.
In short, fat is neither good nor bad. However, to reduce weight and lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, it pays to cut down on all of it but concentrate on eating the better fats in moderation. Low-fat foods can seem like a good choice for shoppers, but come with the risk of falling prey to the 'low-fat trap'. This sees people eating more of the products described as 'low-fat', outweighing the fat they would have consumed in the normal versions⁴. Low-fat foods often replace the fat content with sugar or sugar substitutes, making them potentially worse for your health than the full-fat version, eaten in moderation.
To discuss your food consumption and gain valuable advice on your eating habits, arrange a dietary consultation today. At BMI Healthcare we also have a range of different health assessment checks you can have carried out to inform you of any health issues you may be unaware of.
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